For most of the ten years of Lebanon’s civil war that my family witnessed, there was one consistent reality we lived with. I'm not talking about uncertainty of the family finances, worry that we may not have much of an education or future, or the limited to nonexistent opportunities to do normal things children do like sports, going to the movies or playing outside. I'm not even talking about the lack of clean water, electricity and on occasion basic food supplies. That consistent reality was a sniper sitting in the window of a tall apartment building across the way from my father's grocery store--on the other side of the Green Line dividing East and West Beirut.
We never quite knew when the sniper was working or sleeping. He kept us guessing. We only knew that in the dark, he couldn't see well, but that's not when customers came looking for groceries, so my father had no choice. Every morning, he would approach the store’s door with the key in hand, he'd turn the key once, run out of the sniper's view into the building's entrance for a moment, then run back to turn the key again and push the door open. Once inside, he kept the lights dim so the sniper didn't set his eyes on our windows. So you're probably wondering if any customers braved the sniper and walked into the store. Some did. You see all they had to do was walk towards the store from the safe side of the street and run in...no pausing to turn keys or to pick up the steaming, fresh bread delivered to the store's doorstep as my father often did.
I know this first hand because when the sniper was an active duty, school was usually closed and I was restless. I would wake up early and head to the store, which was my refuge. I took great pride in the clean floors, neatly stocked shelves, satisfied customers, perfectly rotated inventory and the slowly growing totals in the cash drawer. Yes, it was MY place and no one could take that away from me--not the sniper across the way or anyone else.
Someone who's never lived through a war may think we were brave and we probably were. Opening a grocery store every morning under those conditions was no picnic. Surviving the few times sniper bullets hit inches above the keyhole is pretty neat to live through and tell about. We were quite good and savvy at doing whatever it took to survive. We also never gave up--constantly replacing every shattered window and always believing better days were ahead.
Looking back, if I were in my parents' shoes, I cannot say with confidence that I would have been as brave, tenacious or hopeful. They kept us alive--and relatively happy—in the face of great odds, and for that, my siblings and I are forever grateful. I'm particularly grateful for being here today with the freedom to write this blog, which has become my way of dancing in that Beirut intersection without fear of the sniper’s bullets.
Godspeed my brothers and sisters!